Party in a garage.

I love to talk about food. Most of the time and especially when I’m on vacation, I’m either talking about what I'm eating, talking about what I’ve eaten or talking about what I’m going to eat next …while I’m eating now. People always talk about food. Even when they don’t want to talk about it, especially that particular dish they most definitely do NOT want to talk about, they talk about it.

Everybody’s got their favorites. And of course there are regional specialties. Sweet tea. Cheesesteaks. Lobster rolls. And the biggest mother of them all: pizza. Oh, pizza. New York-style, Chicago-style, Naples-style; pies and thin crust and deep dish; square versus round and arguments over why circles are cut into squares (it’s to create the little tiny triangles that you eat while you are contemplating which piece you want, obviously). The smile and nod that ends it all when I eat because it doesn’t matter. Pizza.

But then there are the standards. The stuff everyone eats. The stuff we are shocked to learn that others don’t, or haven’t.

One of my friends from California is always blah blah blahing about tri tip (which I have NEVER heard of because in Chicago we eat prime rib and filet and STEAK, not tips of whatever. What’s the point of a tip? It doesn’t sound at all like it would stand up to a baked potato. And if there’s anything you want your meat to do, it’s to hold its own next to a baked potato).

HOWEVER. It does sound delicious. Here’s what I think she might have said once or a hundred times about it: I think it’s got a secret rub (naughty!) and some lime? Maybe it’s grilled? I’m sure it’s marinated for at least as long as it takes to finish a bottle of bubbly. So, like 30 minutes? Then you eat it, outside, on your patio, in December. Yeah, she is not above bragging about the California sun during a Chicago winter.

And did you know that they do NOT have mostacholi in NYC? This was confirmed by my friend who grew up here, in Chicago, and now lives there, in New York City. She discovered this when she went to the grocery store. She found penne. She found rigatoni. She found no mostacholi. How New Yorkers ever celebrated Baptisms, Communions, Graduations, or Birthdays, I’ll never know. If you aren’t eating baked mostacholi from a giant aluminum pan on a buffet, then you aren’t celebrating anything.

I’ll break it down: growing up, parties were all family and neighbors. Probably a couple of  strangers too, because one guy knew a guy who knew that guy who fixed the pipe at Mrs. Wojaliczak’s across the street. And if you were from the South Side, those parties would have all been in a garage, because that's where all the parties were.

Not a dirty garage full of dust and two by fours and bushel baskets with some sad, lonely apples left over from apple-picking. No no no. A garage, clean and swept, two by fours stacked neatly in the corner, bushel baskets hanging on the wall, refrigerator shining and full of food. Yes, the second refrigerator. Don’t tell me you didn’t have a second refrigerator in your garage. Maybe in your basement. Unless you had neither a basement nor a garage (which means you lived on a boat, in an apartment, or in Hooverville, like the extras in Annie), you had a second refrigerator.

Here’s the party: mostacholi, fried chicken, wet beefs and a giant garbage can full of ice and pop and beer and you have to reach in all the way up to your elbow to get anything. Cream soda is always left over by the end. Who wants cream soda? 12 year olds hopped up on sugar and sun, that's who.

So, you have big long tables and metal folding chairs that either pinch your fingers when you are wiggling in a sugar-induced frenzy to get more cake or stick to your legs as you reach over to grab another piece of fried chicken (probably cold, which is even better).

You have adults standing and sitting and laughing, vodka tonics carefully tended and beers balancing equilibrium during horseshoes.  

You have kids running in and out, all slamming doors and shrieks, obeying the made-up rules of made-up games, their shouts punctuated by the louder (but only occasional) “stop running or you’ll slip and fall and crack your head open!”  

In short, you have the perfect South Side party. Apparently they don’t party in garages in California. I think it’s because of the earthquakes. Enjoy your sun, you who live on a fault line!! I'll be over here, shoving mostacholi into my mouth and wondering if there is anything besides cream soda left.